Representatives from 49 African countries are attending Thursday's two-day summit in St. Petersburg, according to the Kremlin.
Yuri Ushakov, assistant for foreign affairs to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told state news agency TASS that all but five African states would attend, and that Putin would use the occasion to “assess the system of international relations, talk about the initiatives and prospects for relations between Russia and Africa.”
17 heads of states are among the 49 representatives, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Putin said he plans to “meet separately with each leader of the African states.”
Low turnout: This turnout, however, is far lower than the 45 heads of states who attended the last Russia-Africa summit in 2019 – a sign of unease among many leaders around aligning themselves too closely with their Russian counterpart.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov blamed what he described as “brazen” interference by the West for the poor summit turnout.
“There is overt brazen interference by the US, France and other states through their diplomatic missions in African countries and attempts to put pressure on the leadership of these countries in order to prevent their active participation in the forum,” Peskov said Wednesday.
“This is indeed a fact, and this is absolutely outrageous. But this will in no way interfere with the success of the summit,” he added.
But some African politicians – further than simply not attending the summit – have expressed grave concerns about Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine.
“I don’t think that this moment in time is a good time for summits in Russia. Because Russia is involved in a war, a conflict,” said Raila Odinga, the Kenyan opposition leader.
“Africa needs to take a very firm stance on this issue. It’s a question of right and wrong. Therefore, my view is that we cannot be neutral in the place of an aggression. You must take a stand one way or another,” Odinga said.
What’s on the agenda?: Cameron Hudson, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN that many leaders of African countries will come to St. Petersburg seeking “a return to normal… of world grain markets, world fertilizer markets.”
The summit comes in the wake of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Deal, which had secured the safe passage of grain from Ukraine’s southern ports – much of which is exported to Africa.
Not only has Russia blockaded Ukraine’s ports – but it has started to bombard its infrastructure and target its storage facilities, destroying large quantities of grain and sparking fears of global food security.
“I think it’s very likely to see Russia trying to propose bilateral grain deals or even grain deals on a humanitarian basis coming directly from Russia… bypassing the UN-brokered system, leaving Ukraine out in the cold,” Hudson told CNN.
He said he expects Putin will try “to cut deals directly with African states” in order to create a “dependency relationship.” On Thursday, Putin was quick to reassure leaders that “Russia is still a reliable supplier of food to Africa.”